Friday, June 29, 2012

Question: Is it cheaper to make your own products? Part one!

Last year, Patrick and Will posed this question - what is the cheapest lotion you could make? We took a look at various ingredients we would use in a lotion and tried to figure out how to reduce costs. This morning, I found this comment from Catherine (click and scroll down to read the entire comment!), and I thought it was an interesting question. Is it cheaper to make our own products?

I've totally seen the cost savings with lotions, esp. facial moisturizers. But I don't think I've seen them with shampoo/body wash. Which is too bad because it really is enjoyable and satisfying to make your own. But my family is on a serious budget and I have to factor that in. I was all set to reorder my SLeS and coco. betaine from Then I noted that, with shipping, the cost was about $13/month. And even if I were to buy by the gallon instead of quart, the cost with shipping would still be maybe $10/month. Versus spending about $10 for a 16 oz bottle of high-quality Jason body wash which lasts maybe 2 months.

When you first start out, you're going to go through a lot of ingredients until you find the product you really love, but it does get cheaper as you finalize those recipes. I don't need to have all the different oils - I only order those I really like - and I really don't need all the different surfactants because I know which ones I really love. And when you know you'll be using a lot of an ingredient, you can order more of it, which reduces the price.

It's hard when you have to include shipping in your expenses. I'm really fortunate that I live within driving distance of three suppliers (Voyageur Soap & Candle, Aquarius Aroma & Soap, and Suds & Scents), a short trip across the border to another (Brambleberry), and a day's shipping away from another (Soapcraft). Yes, I probably should include my gas and wear & tear on my car, but I enjoy the drive down and the interaction with the suppliers. 

To get back to the original comment, I was looking at the ingredients in a Jason body wash and was quite surprised. The first three ingredients are water, cocamidopropyl betaine, and SLSa. Lauryl glucoside comes way down near the bottom. If you're buying a 16 ounce - 500 ml - bottle, how much of each ingredient do you think is in each bottle? Maybe 10% maximum cocamidopropyl betaine, 10% SLSa, 5% lauryl glucoside, meaning that there's maybe 50 grams of cocamidopropyl betaine, 50 grams SLSa, and 25 grams lauryl glucoside. If the bottle of Jason body wash is $10 for 16 ounces or 500 ml (with taxes, let's say), you can definitely make your product for far less than that! You might need to make a large initial investment, but I think you can make something similar for much cheaper.

As a note, I'm switching out the powdered SLSa for something that foams as well because I hate trying to incorporate SLSa in my products. I think I'll go with liquid ACI (ammonium cocoyl isethionate) as it has a lovely foam and lather to it, plus that feeling of moisturizing afterwards. I don't have lauryl glucoside, so I'll go with decyl glucoside instead. I'm sure I'm using higher levels of these ingredients than the original, but I'm using the percentages that I like! I'm not using sodium PCA as that gets washed off, so I'm increasing the amount of glycerin so we have a nice humectant. For my water soluble oil, I'm using water soluble shea from Lotioncrafter, which is awesome! (For any ingredients that I haven't created a link for, please look to the right and see the ingredients links!)

For these amounts, I'm mostly going with Voyageur's prices as that's where I get most of my stuff. And I'll go with the sizes I might normally purchase. (And no, I'm not starting the duplication series again - I'm using this as an example of how much something can cost.)

60% water
10% cocamidopropyl betaine
10% ACI
5% decyl glucoside
5% aloe vera
3% calendula extract (water soluble)
3% glycerin
0.5% allantoin
3% water soluble oil

2% panthenol
0.5% liquid Germall Plus
1% fragrance or essential oil

If I look at making a 500 ml or 16 ounce bottle of this product, it works out to $5.56, not including the bottle, taxes, or shipping. Sounds kind of expensive...but I have the ingredients to make another whoknowshowmany bottles of body wash, shampoo, bubble bath, facial cleanser, and tons of other foamy and lathery products. (If I just want to make this specific body wash, I can make at least 20 bottles of body wash without having to replenish my supplies.)

The total for all these ingredients would be $139.90, not including shipping or taxes - I recognize this isn't cheap. If you want to see all the math, click here for the Excel spreadsheet.

If you wanted to make this product less expensive, you could take out the calendula extract - almost 94 cents - and the panthenol - 84 cents - and make a body wash for $3.78. You could add some powdered extracts, which are almost always cheaper than the liquid version and you use less, instead of the aloe vera and calendula. The ACI isn't a cheap ingredient at $1.45 for 50 grams - it costs about four times more than something like C14-16 olefin sulfonate, which would be about 39 cents in this product, bringing the cost down to $2.72 for this product. If you used SLeS, which is $6.95 for 1 litre, you'd use 34 cents in this product, bringing the cost down to $2.67.

If you wanted to use these ingredients to make a shampoo, that would be quite simple. Visit the hair care section of the blog and find a recipe you like. I like the conditioning shampoo for oily hair, so let's use that an example.

As this post is getting really huge, join me tomorrow to see how we can use the surfactants we have on hand to make that shampoo! 

Is it cheaper to make our own products? I think in the end, it might be cheaper to make our own products, depending on what products we are trying to make. It's definitely cheaper to make lotion based products, but surfactants can get a bit expensive, especially if you're shipping them across country. I don't think my body wash is cheaper than the Dove sensitive skin version I used to use, but it feels much nicer on my skin and the acne I was getting on my back is gone. My shampoo bars are awesome, and I use about 1/3 of the conditioner I used to use when I bought it. The appeal for me is that I can customize my products to suit my hair and skin type, and I get to give lots of wonderful presents to my family and friends.

Join me tomorrow for more on this topic!

Related posts:
Cheaper lotions - comparing dollar store lotions
Substitutions: Formulating on a budget
Substitutions: Formulating on a budget - substituting esters
Substitutions: Formulating on a budget - surfactant based products


Anastasia said...

For anyone who is a "product snob," making your own is definitely cheaper. I worked out all of the prices for my formulas. I'm a bit of a numbers geek :) My conditioner cost is about $4 per 8oz bottle. Compared to the $15 I was paying for a high quality conditioner, that's quite a savings! Even if we factor in the 2 failed 4oz batches, I still make my money back on the first good one alone.

Of course, people could argue that I could find a perfectly good premade conditioner for less money. They are right. But I am picky. I like my hair to feel a certain way. I like particular fragrances, and in modest amounts. I don't have the patience to try a hundred different bargain brands to find one that is both cheap and fits my needs.

Shampoo is a bit closer to retail, but still a savings. $4.50 per bottle, where as I was paying around $8.

Facial cleanser and moisturizer are taking me a bit longer to work out. I've had 3 or 4 small batches that weren't quite right, and I'm still playing with formulas. Once again, when I get it right, it'll be worth it. I'm replacing high-end products there too!

Secondly, I'm having a lot of fun! Finding formulas online. Reading about ingredients. Making a product, tweaking it, and making it again. Using something new to see how this one turns out. It's like cooking, but less work, and no calories! :)

Tara said...

I always factor in the enjoyment of making my own products and the ability to tailor the products to my own tastes and requirements. You can't find those qualities in ANY store purchased product!

catherine said...

Hi! Thanks again for the response and info you provide in this post. It's great to really run the numbers like you did in the spreadsheet.

I've thought about it some really comes down to the shipping. And this dovetails into another subject, distributors and what they charge for shipping.

With lotioncrafter, bulkactives and brambleberry I've been averaging about 25% surcharge for shipping. With herbarie and personalformulator the shipping surcharge is 100%! For me that is unaffordable. I wish I could go to a brick and mortar store but can't find one in my area.

I agree with anastasia and tara that making your own products is really gratifying...but I still have to factor cost--both money and time.

Although...heck I guess I'm hooked. :) I am going to try the dupe for jason body wash...

You know another topic I'm curious about. How did everyone get started. For me, I wasn't finding a decent toner. There was a recipe on makeupalley for a homemade one, specifying a preservative from lotioncrafter! I got on the lotioncrafter web site, saw I could make practically anything.

I called them just to be sure I could order stuff as a non-professional, struck up a conversation with jen. I asked her what book she recommended, she recommended yours, I googled you and found your awesome blog, and the rest is history!

Thank you for introducing me to this world of lotionmaking! :)

Jen said...

I am eager to have a go at the body wash recipe here, but do not have decyl glucoside. What would be reasonable subs?

la tía maruja said...

Beeing a principant and not having a lot of Chemistry knowledge is good for me, as I simplify formulas and get effective and cheap products. On the other hand, now that I make my own cosmetics I make products that I wouldn't buy before, like serums or hair treatments. I live in Spain and the main suppliers I buy to are in UK and France, so the shipping costs are huge (15 pounds, my last order!). So it depends. I think in my case I'm spending more or less the same than before, but getting a healthier skin, making my family happy and becoming passioned with a new hobby. That's a great value!

Tammy said...

Re: shopping at Bramble Berry. The shipping to the Yukon has always deterred me. But I wonder about sending my sister down there to ship it from Maple Ridge for me. How much can you bring back in one day or do they charge you duty regardless?

Thanks! :)

Will said...

...and Will is still reading your blog!

Always fascinated!


PS: to the lady who in an earlier blog asked if you can use a lotion that failed - I have with no ill effects. I wanted a thin lotion and went too extreme, but I just shake it!

Nancy Liedel said...

Cheap is relative. I can make products that are of the quality I demand and the price I can afford. Unless there is an epic fail because I've decided to experiment, but that's educational and there's value there too.

In other words, I can pan colors as nice as, "YSL," while paying the going rate for, "Jane Cosmetics." Especially now that I can make sheer and more matte lippies, as I want them. I'm a lipstick junkie and I've almost formulated the feel I want. Almost. It's just not sticking enough. I'm thinking Nylon 12. Not so natural, but oh so effective.

Nedeia said...

I am not sure if it is cheaper, but it is way much fun. the initial investment was huge for me , but I think it is worthwhile :) . Ustensils, beakers, sterilizer, mixers, all the raw ingredients.... that can add up to a nice sum. In the end, I feel rewarded and there's no regret. I am now buying only my sunscreen and BHA gel, and I'm happy about it :)

Aljonor said...

I am a dry hair girl and wash my hair 2 times a week and deep condition my hair 2 times a week to get it back in good shape. If I was to use the commercial products, it will cost me at least $18 a month. Now, that is expensive. But since I been making my own, I experiment with ingredients and found the right recipes. Now, there are some ingredients that are more costly than others, but I choose ingredients that I can use for the skin and hair. So with that my cost has gone done greatly. So, I think it is cheaper to make your own especially when you use one product for multi-uses

Robert said...

Perhaps it may be fun and a good learning activity if we could try to help Nedeia make her BHA Gel.

Perhaps we can try two formulations. One would be a 2% salicylic acid gel at pH 5.5 and the second would be a 2% salicylic acid gel at pH 3.5.

Lulue said...


I am fairly new to the blog and hae been avidly reading and learning so much. Thanks so much for this informative and educational resource.

I have done a search and have seen where cleansing bars have been done, but have not seen cleansing balms such as these:

Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm

Obviously it would not have to be moringa. I have only seen moringa in one place here in the UK)

This is another cleansing balm:
Merumaya Melting Cleansing Balm

Also could you put a basic list of raw ingredients to start out with so I don't go crazy buying things?